Some Companies are Ignoring Environmental Marketing Best Practices When it Comes to Print and Paper
The potential consequences of misleading marketing claims – from negative public relations and customer dissatisfaction to legal action and financial penalties – make rigorous factual and legal scrutiny of product and service claims a fundamental step in today’s corporate marketing process. So why are many otherwise diligent companies skipping this step and shooting from the hip when it comes to making environmental claims about the use of print and paper?
In part, I think the answer lies in the fact that the “go paperless, saves trees” mantra has been repeated without effective challenge for so long that many, including corporate gatekeepers, have come to accept it as fact. If paper comes from trees and we use less paper, we save trees and protect our forests, the reasoning goes. And since using less paper is good for the environment, the electronic bills, statements and other customer communications that replace it must be a better environmental choice, right? Wrong. But lots of big-name U.S. companies are making this unsubstantiated leap as they encourage their customers to switch from paper to electronic communications, ironically sidestepping best practices for environmental marketing under the banner of going green.
Two Sides recently initiated an educational campaign to engage and encourage major U.S. corporations to adopt best practices for environmental marketing established by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14021:1999) and to end the use of unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability of print and paper. Both sets of standards are quite detailed, but in a nutshell they say that environmental marketing claims should be accurate, substantiated by competent and reliable evidence and should not suggest environmental benefits by using broad, vague terms like “green” and “environmentally friendly.”
What I especially like about the Two Sides effort is that it doesn’t try to establish a “pixels versus paper” scenario but instead recognizes that both print and electronic communications have attractive benefits and environmental consequences. It’s a straightforward approach that simply says, “Dear Mr. CEO, your company is making unsubstantiated marketing claims about the environmental attributes of print and paper. Here are the facts about print and paper sustainability. We encourage you to follow best practices for environmental marketing from the FTC and others and put an end to your misleading claims.”
Citing facts from well-known, credible sources, Two Sides makes the case that paper is made from a natural resource that is renewable and recyclable and that these features, combined with the U.S. paper industry’s advocacy of responsible forestry practices and certification, use of renewable, carbon-neutral biofuels and advances in efficient papermaking technology, make paper one of the most sustainable products on earth. It’s a compelling argument founded in sound science.
The process of contacting companies will take some time, so it will be a while before results of the campaign are known. But the results of a similar effort in the United Kingdom were pretty impressive. At the outset of the campaign, 43 percent of the major U.K. banks, 70 percent of telecoms and 30 percent of utilities were using misleading environmental claims to support e-billing and statements. As a result of Two Sides efforts, over 80 percent of these companies either eliminated the claims or now use wording that doesn’t include misleading statements. You can keep up with results of the U.S. campaign and other print and paper sustainability news by following Two Sides on Twitter at twitter.com/twoside.us or visiting www.twosides.us.
Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.